Last summer, much of the east coast was hit by Hurricane Isaias. I remember it first hitting Frank, our Sweaty Penguin Technical Producer, in Puerto Rico, and forcing him to have to upload that week’s episode on his mobile hotspot after losing Internet access. The next week, it hit me in Connecticut, and power was out for a week—the same length as Hurricane Sandy.
But talking to anyone that wasn’t directly affected by Isaias, no one even knew it had happened. Even as close by as my friends and colleagues in Boston. I looked up the numbers later and saw that Isaias was nowhere near as powerful as storms like Sandy, Maria, Florence, Harvey, or even Laura later that summer, but to think people so close by didn’t even know it happened was a shock to me, especially since from my point of view in Connecticut at the time, it was one of the worst storms I’d experienced.
Maybe I should have expected that. 2020 was the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever recorded, even extending into the fall. Of course Isaias didn’t make national news. But without doing some research of their own, no one would realize just how unusual 2020 was. No one would connect the dots and ask: what is causing this increase in hurricanes?
I was thinking about last summer this week after a similar series of events. I’m a big professional track fan, and both of us who watched Olympic trials over the last week and a half saw athletes compete during a historic heat wave. When you can feel heat just watching on television, you know it’s bad. On Sunday, Eugene, Oregon reached 110°F, the highest temperature ever recorded. Highest. Temperature. Ever. This dates back to 1897 when they first started recording temperatures! And you know how the surface of a track gets really hot on a warm day? They put a thermometer on the track itself, and it recorded a temperature of 148°F.
On Sunday, heptathlete Taliyah Brooks was carted off in a wheelchair after collapsing during her warmup for the javelin. To see extreme heat crush someone’s Olympic dreams was, to me, the most heartbreaking moment of the entire trials.
Needless to say, they moved the distance events to morning for a few days, and after Brooks’ collapse, they postponed Sunday’s competition to evening. As a fan, I’m glad they did. Sydney McLaughlin, who I had the pleasure of watching at a meet in Boston five years ago, broke the 400 meter hurdles world record in one of the best races I’ve ever seen.
But here I am this week, writing this post in Pavement Coffeehouse because my apartment has no air conditioning and the temperature in Boston today will go up to 99°F—so hot that it would be unsafe to even sit by the fan, as the air it would blow would be hotter than my internal body temperature. I stayed out from 8:30am-8:30pm yesterday, and today and tomorrow should go the same way. But do most Bostonians know about the historic heat wave in Oregon? Do west coasters know about these brutal temperatures in Boston, which are extremely mild compared to this Oregon heat wave and yet still managed to make it unsafe for me to be in my apartment? Is anyone connecting the dots?
It comes up on the podcast all the time that climate change isn’t a future problem, but a current one that we’re experiencing right now. To me, the last two summers made that abundantly clear. Now, I’m kind of scared about what’s coming, if this is just the beginning. And I’m scared knowing that I am personally feeling the effects of climate change in a big way and yet so many people have it so much worse.
But most of all, I’m surprised. Not by the severity of these summers, but by the fact that not one of these extreme events sparked a national reckoning with climate change. I heard no mention of climate change in the news articles about Boston declaring a heat emergency. No mention in the TV broadcast of the Olympic trials in Oregon, where by the way, they actually spent an hour on the air just vamping when the competition got postponed on Sunday. Not much mention during Hurricane Isaias, and maybe a little more mention during Hurricane Laura, but still not the focus of the coverage.
What needs to happen for climate change to be front page news? If all of this doesn’t do it, what will it take?